In October 2021, a devastating fire swept through Almira’s only K-8 elementary school. Almira School housed around 135 students and had been serving the community for over eight decades. It was more than just a place to learn; it was where the whole neighborhood gathered to support each other and build up the kids’ futures. Despite firefighters’ efforts, the school didn’t make it and burned down.

As the smoke cleared, a tremendous wave of support and donations flooded in from businesses, neighboring school districts, and individuals from across the state, all determined to rebuild the heart of their community. Both Columbia Basin Foundation and the Hagan Foundation donated amounts of $120,000+ each. Other generous donations came from Northwest Credit Union, Seahawks, Ritzville Warehouse, Amazon, Odessa Brewery, Herdrick Family, STCU, along with a local family who donated adjacent property for construction storage and future parking. These contributions highlight the incredible solidarity that emerged, turning an overwhelming loss into a collective effort to rebuild Almira School.

A few days after the fire, OAC was engaged to coordinate the setup of a temporary school compound. This involved the setup of portables and trailers, intended to be used throughout the construction period. In just four months, the temporary facility was ready, reuniting students who had been situated in different locations across the community. —These included a church, community center, Port Authority building, and neighboring school district.

Almira School District officials then took on the challenge of tackling the recovery process. Under the guidance of OAC Project Manager Gene Sementi, the district collaborated with community members and partners to secure funds from insurance, state grants, and the legislature. OAC assisted in selecting the Design-Build team, overseeing the design and construction of the new school, and later handling furniture and equipment purchases, coordinating the school move-in, and ensuring the punch list’s completion.

“The Almira rebuild was a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone who worked on the job. Every person, from plumbers to brick layers to architects and everyone in between, understood that they were building a school for children who had lost their beloved school and the heart of their community to a devastating fire. It truly brought out the best of everyone involved.” – Project Manager Gene Sementi, OAC

The Design-Build Team, comprised of Garco Construction and ALSC Architects, worked closely with school staff to design a new school that addressed immediate needs and anticipated future ones, safeguarding the best educational opportunities for students. The new building added about 10,000 square feet, which featured a larger gym and lunchroom, along with updated technology in the classrooms.

Just a year after the fire, the groundbreaking became a pivotal moment in the community’s healing process. The new school, now larger and more advanced, represents a state-of-the-art facility. Following 22 months of meticulous planning and construction, the school was ready to welcome students back for the 2023-2024 school year. A ribbon-cutting ceremony gathered parents, students, staff, donors, and community members in the new auditorium, marking a celebration of Almira’s resilience and the unveiling of the new school.

“Despite the many challenges, we never lost sight of our mission, which was always to provide education in a nurturing environment for every child who walked through our doors. This building today stands as a testament to our resilience and spirit of our community. It’s a place where dreams will be nurtured, where knowledge will flourish, and where memories will be made.” – Principal Kelsey Hoppe, Almira School District

It’s been a long journey, but the school once again has become a pillar in the community for generations to come. Almira School symbolizes hope, strength, and resilience, reminding us of the power of unity and determination in the face of adversity.

Click here to learn more about this project and Almira’s inspiring journey.